Category Archives: insects

THE RACE: Homage to “The Prince”

The island of Príncipe is ancient… at 31 million years of age it is twice as old as São Tomé, yet biologically the two islands are unquestionably related. Along with documenting and describing hitherto unknown species of strange, endemic plants and animals that inhabit one or the other island (rarely, both), we attempt to understand the relationships of these species to each other and to their ancestral populations from the African mainland.

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For instance among the striking Príncipe uniques is Leptopelis palmatus, the Príncipe giant tree frog (above). Females of this species attain dimensions such that they are largest tree frog in Africa! Males, first described by us, are usually less than half their length. The original specimen upon which the species description was based over a century ago was a single female of 110mm body length (excluding legs). Like all female frogs, they do not have an advertisement call and despite their great size, very few have been found and reported in the scientific literature.

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(male)

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(female)

A few days ago, Dr. Rayna Bell found the large female pictured above, pressed to the surface of a small flat rock on the ground on a steep, dryish slope in the northwestern part of the island. Females tend to be dark compared to males, but this is the first all-black specimen reported. There are three other tree frog species on the islands, but they are all closely related to each other and belong to a different frog family from the Príncipe giant.

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Dr Bell has shown that these other three are most closely related to a species from the Ogooué and Congo River basins and thus likely of western Central African origin. Other work has shown that the nearest relative of Leptopelis palmatus of Príncipe is from west of the Niger River and thus the giant is  probably of northern (West African) origin, perhaps dispersing from the Niger River drainage..

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Dr. Luis Mendes and Maria Jeronimo have continued to collect butterflies to fill in knowledge gaps with species for Luis’s book. Luis has collected a number of specimens that he cannot readily identify; on these poorly-known islands, this is particularly exciting.

Maria has actually been doing a lot of everything: collecting butterflies with Luis, joining us in the classrooms and going out at night collecting with Dr. Rayna Bell, Lauren Scheinberg and our photographer, Andrew Stanbridge. Considering that this is a “break” from her PhD dissertation work, her energy level is truly impressive.

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Most geckos are nocturnal but the genus Lygodactylus is comprised of strictly daytime species in Africa and Madagascar. Readers may recall that the islands of Annobon, São Tomé and Príncipe are each inhabited by a single endemic species usually distinguishable by different black markings under the chin; other than these markings, the island species are usually a combination of grey and black. Luis Mendes captured an adult male on Príncipe that appears to be in breeding coloration of a sort I have not seen before in this genus. There is one species endemic to a small forest in Tanzania that is a beautiful blue, several others in East Africa that have yellow heads, and one species in Zambia that has a yellow belly. The male collected on Principe has a bright yellow head and the body that is a striking shade of light green. Not only is this the first time I have observed a green individual, I am also unaware of any literature describing temporary (usually hormonal) color intensities associated with breeding activities in this group of lizards.

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Many of the photos we post on social media might well suggest that our work is being carried out in some sort of paradise; in some ways it is exactly that but is by no means easy!

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The work we do here is only possible with the support of local entities; this is especially true on Príncipe. On our first two expeditions years ago we had difficulty finding suitable accommodations (reliable power for our equipment, etc) and logistics; there were not many available vehicles on the island, and we had little access to the really interesting higher elevation areas of the island or more remote southern areas. Since that time, our efficiency has increased hugely due to the generous support of several organizations on the old island. First and foremost is the Office of the Regional President (Tose Cassandra-he is also head of the recently created Principe World Biosphere Reserve, and also Daniel Ramos, head of the Príncipe Obo Natural Park.

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For a number of years, we have been able to stay at Bom Bom Island resort which has also helped with needed transportation, both vehicular and marine. This year we were invited to stay at the new Roça Belo Monte (Africa’s Eden) who also provided transportation and assistance. At one point we planned a boat trip to explore the remote southeastern part of the island but the skipper, Bobby Bronkhorst, of Makaira Lodge fell ill.

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Our work is now also in cooperation with the newly formed Príncipe Trust; the Trust played a major supporting role in the production of this year’s biodiversity bird field guide/coloring book and binoculars! Our biodiversity education efforts were concluded for Gulf of Guinea IX here on the old island with our return to the 3rd grade classes of the same schools we have been visiting since 2011. Usually after class visits, we see 3rd graders out in the bush peering through their new binoculars but frequently backwards! This may well be more fun for them.

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Parting Shot:
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PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”.We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-VII expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VIII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund

THE RACE: GG IX – RETURN TO THE BIG ISLAND

The seven members of GG IX all met up in the Lisbon airport on September 18 and arrived the next day in São Tomé. Two new collegues on this expedition are from Portugal. Dr. Luis Mendes, a butterfly expert from the Natural History Museum in Lisbon is finishing a major book on the butterflies of the islands and is checking certain localities for species that have not been seen for many years.

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Maria Adelina Jeronimo, a PhD candidate from the Gulbenkian Institute in Portugal, also studies butterflies but specifically the genetics of certain novel morphological characters. Maria is a matter of months from finishing her doctoral dissertation.

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Dr. Rayna Bell has returned for her third trip and is continuing her studies of the interesting hybridization phenomenon that seems to be occurring between the two endemic São Tomé tree frog species, reported in a major publication earlier this year. She has also discovered that the little green tree frogs of Principe, while seemingly nearly identical to those of São Tomé, are in fact a separate species. This does not surprise us really; see earlier blogs on geckos and snakes!

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Rayna is being assisted by our third new member,  Lauren Scheinberg of the Herpetology Department of the California Academy of Sciences.

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Our brilliant (and very tall) photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, has joined us for the fifth time (also as co-leader).

The education team is, as usual, Roberta Ayers and myself, plus our long-time São Toméan colleagues, Roberta dos Santos, Anita Rodriguez and Quintino Quade Cabral. Maria Jeronimo has been assisting. A new cycle begins this year, starting again with third grade.

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There have been several interesting discoveries already. A couple of years ago we published a study of the giant geckos of the islands, describing a new species from Príncipe (Miller, et al, 2012). We suggested that the large endemic species of São Tomé, Hemidactylus greefi, was only found in natural settings, having been out-competed in the towns by common, widespread recent colonizers. During our first week the group found an adult Greef’s gecko at sea level on a door in Angolares, the second largest town on the big island. I suspect that if competition with widespread common immigrants accounts for the absence of this gecko in the capitol city, there must be fewer of the former in Angolares. This is understandable as Angolares is still quite small and is not by any means a port city; that has always been São Tomé city.

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As in every year, we went to the Olea tree at Macambrara (1100 m) to check on the known population of the giant São Tomé tree frog, Hyperolius thomensis. Long-time readers will recall that two holes in this enormous tree are the only place we have consistently found this colorful species. While we have conjectured that the giant tree frog must be widespread in the higher elevation forests (we can hear it call from far above in the canopy), we have been unable to find another locality or tree with appropriate breeding holes… until now!

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With our colleague, Dr. Ricardo Lima of University of Lisbon, we were able to gain access to the primary forest above the huge southern oil palm plantation of Agripalma. At 350 m, above an abandoned roça called Monte Carmo, Bell, Scheinberg, Lima and Stanbridge found large numbers of the giant São Tomé tree frog breeding in pockets of water on fallen logs. This southern-most locality indicates, as we suspected, that this flamboyant frog is widespread in the relatively undisturbed forest and that while not restricted to high elevation (Macambrara), it does indeed seem to breed in pockets of water such as tree holes, rather than standing water like its close relative.

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Here, there appears to be no hybridization as the two tree frog species are separated by oil palm rather than less biologically hostile agricultural fields or plots. In fact, so far as I know, hardly any endemic vertebrates or native plants are able to survive in oil palm.

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This area is also the last bastion of a remarkable endemic bird, the Dwarf ibis, the smallest species of ibis in the world; it is severely threatened, both by hunting and by habitat destruction (oil palm). Notably, there are now two charismatic endemic species, a bird and a frog, endangered by human activities on this remote and fascinating island.

So far, this year’s activities have included working in a number of new localities including the central massif and in the far south. High in the mountains above Roça Agua Izé, one of the larger of the coastal colonial cacao plantations, we got our first decent view of a Giant weaver, Ploceus grandis. One of many endemic island giants on São Tomé and Príncipe, this colorful weaver is the largest in the world.

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As always, our educational efforts are aimed at raising the children’s awareness of the unique aspects of the island flora and fauna. We do not preach conservation per se. but rather try to show the young students how special their islands are and thus how special they are as owners.

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This year, each third-grader gets our coloring book about endemic bird species on both islands, a box of colored pencils and a pair of plastic binoculars (which work!!) These are not just handed out…. we present them personally to each student in each classroom, along with enthusiastic instructions for use, and the reasons  we come each year; we involve the students, the teachers, even school principals, and it is great fun. At the end, 10 of our stick-on logo patches are given to the teacher to reward good work. Each of us is involved at one time or another, as voices begin to suffer after 3 or 4 classroom visits.

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At this point, I must mention some wonderful folks who have been vital to the education effort this year: Alice and Wayne Settle conceived of and sponsored the acquisition of the small binoculars; Jim Boyer of the California Academy of Science once again produced a booklet that qualifies as a work of art, and help with producing the bird books is coming from the Príncipe Trust.

In the next blog, I will report on our progress on the smaller geologically ancient island of Príncipe.

Meantime, here’s the parting shot:

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All photos by Andrew Stanbridge

 

 PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”.We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-VII expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VIII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Roça Belo Monte (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund

The RACE: SIZE MATTERS!

It is a fundamental tenet of the science of island biogeography that more different species of plants and animals will be found on larger islands than on smaller ones. When we say “larger” in this regard, we really mean surface area. Note that in the graphic illustration below right, both islands have the exactly the same circumference, but the lower island has a mountain in the middle of it which markedly increases any measure of its overall surface area.

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RCD construct.

The greater (and more varied) the surface area, the larger the number of niches for living organisms; hence with time and evolution there will be more living plants on animals on larger islands than smaller (above left). For “niches”, think of “jobs”; every living thing has a three-part job: 1. where it does what it does (spatial niche); when it does what it does (temporal niche) and how it gets its energy (trophic niche). No two living things can overlap on all three and coexist, hence size (area) matters! There are other factors of course, such as geological age and island distance from source, that affect the numbers and characteristics of species found on islands.

Our islands of São Tomé and Príncipe are classic examples of the area/species number relationship. Here are just a few examples:

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Begonia thomeana. T. Daniel phot. — GG

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African butterfly. Photo from  ARKives. Google Images

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New tree frog (Hyperolius) species from Principe Id. A. Stanbridge phot– GG VII.

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African dragonfly.  ARKive phot. Google Images.

The island area effect is even more convincing when the entire archipelago of four islands is included, from the largest (Bioko) to the smallest (Annobón).

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 Lacewing distribution in Gulf of Guinea. Dong Lin phot. GG I; RCD construct.

As one can see, there is an obvious correlation between island size and the number of lacewings present; however in this case it is also important to note that while Bioko is clearly the largest island, it is also geologically youngest and closest to the mainland, having been attached to the mainland multiple times during the Pleistocene. Such factors can have an important effect on these comparisons. While these correlations prove correct over and over again. However this does not mean that very small islands cannot house wonderful biological surprises, and we are learning that this is true in the Gulf of Guinea.

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Jockey’s Bonnet. A. Stanbridge phot, GG VII

Above is the Jockey’s Bonnet (or Ilha Caroço) so named for its obvious shape. This large rock is only about 3.5 km off the southeast shore of Príncipe, only 35 hectares in area but perhaps 100 m in height. It was undoubtedly once part of the main island, which readers will recall dates back to the Oligocene Epoch, so it is probably quite old geologically.

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Jockey’s Bonnet. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

Although small, the Jockey’s Bonnet houses at least two very intriguing species. The population of native oil palms (Elaeis guineensis) on the western shores of this tiny island have obviously been there for a long time as they have begun to accumulate change from the parent species on the main Island, but a few km away! While still clearly the same species, the Jockey’s Bonnet palms bear seeds (fruit) that is at least twice the size of the palms on Príncipe and São Tomé.

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Bonnet oil palm seed. RCD phot. CAS botany specimen

For bird lovers, an even more exciting occurrence on the Jockey’s Bonnet is that of the Bonnet Seed-eater, a small brown passerine bird noticeably different from its relatives only a few kilometers away on Príncipe!

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Bonnet seed-eater. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

These unique birds are heavier, have longer, broader bills and shorter wings than their island neighbors and have been shown to be genetically distinct from them. They are extremely common (some 3,500 individuals at last estimate) and live exclusively in the oil palm forest pictured above. They have a specialized diet of palm oil and palm pollen, and it is tempting to speculate that there might be some relationship driving the evolution of the palms and the birds.

Isolation and evolutionary change within a population of birds separated from their nearest relatives by only 3 km may well seem counter-intuitive; after all, don’t birds fly? The answer is yes they do, but they don’t need to, they often don’t, at least not long distances! Flying is energetically expensive; if the habitat is relatively stable, suitable for survival and reproduction, why leave it? In spite of their ability to fly, most bird species tend to remain in specific kinds of habitats and areas. This is called philopatry.

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Tinhosa Grande.  A. Stanbridge phot. VII

Far to the south of Príncipe (ca. 20 km.) is a fascinating group of small islands known as the Tinhosas. The largest of these is Tinhosa grande (above) with a surface area of but 20.5 ha.

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RCD construct

Geologically the Tinhosas are of great interest because they mark the southernmost limit of the Oligocene Príncipe of over 31 million years ago. As we have noted in earlier blogs, Príncipe was once much, much larger but through millions of years of weathering, largely from the southwest, all that remains are the Tinhosas and Príncipe, along with its other islets. And again, Principe is twice as old as São Tomé.

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RCD phots, GG I and II  (right – bridled tern)

The Tinhosas are important rookeries for some sea birds such as Brown and Black Noddys, the Sooty Tern and Brown Booby and are recognized by Birdlife International as Wetlands of International Importance and official Waterfowl Habitat.

Tinhosa Grande is also inhabited by at least two different kinds of lizards, a skink species and a gecko species. These were observed and photographed by members of a recent ornithological expedition but specimens were not collected. Our colleague, Dr. Luis Ceriaco, of the Natural History Museum in Lisbon discovered that some of these skinks had been collected by a Portuguese expedition and deposited in that museum 45 years ago.

CeriacoDr. Luis Ceriaco with Principe giant tree frog..  phot from Facebook.

After analysis, Luis discovered that the Tinhosa Grande specimens represented a new species which he has described as Trachylepis adamastor. It is a very large skink differing from its nearest relatives in size, scales and coloration.

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Tinhosa skink. (Trachylepis). Ross Wanless phot.

Members of the more recent bird expedition reported to Ceriaco that that the population of these skinks seemed very dense, and Ceriaco later speculated that there might be a trophic relationship between the numerous skinks and the nesting birds. Notice above that the skink is feeding on a recently broken egg (this photo appeared in the paper by L. Cericaco). Such relationships are not unknown.

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Cousin Island. Google images; bridled tern RCD image, Cousin habitat RCD image; Mabuya wrighti James Warwick image)

Cousin Island of the Seychelles Archipelago in the Indian Ocean exhibits a strikingly similar situation that has been well-studied. This small island of 27 hectares supports enormous populations of two species of skinks: Mabuya wrighti, which is large, and Mabuya seychellensis, which is smaller. Studies revealed that in 1979 there were approximately 1,713 individual skinks per hectare, and that these were supported directly by nesting terns (60,000 pairs of Lesser Noddy terns alone) through broken eggs, feces and dropped fish. Such a situation may well exist on Tinhosa Grande.

The Tinhosa gecko remains a mystery. We have no examples of it and cannot examine its morphology or molecular relationships.

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Tinhosa gecko. (Hemidactylus sp.) Photos by Nuno Barros, courtesy, Birdlife Int.

The photos are not of sufficient quality to determine whether this gecko is related to one of the unique island species (H. principensis, H. greeffii) or is a more widespread species.

We are preparing for GG IX in September. More anon.

The parting shot:

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A 4th grade Sao Tomean student with our biodiversity playing cards. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VII

 PARTNERS:
We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”.We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-VII expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VIII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and for partially sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII and GG VIII.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund

 













The Race: Another New Species and Contributions from our Citizen Scientists

Colleagues in London, Drs. Simaikis and Edgecombe of the Natural History Museum, have just published a paper on centipedes that includes some very old specimens from São Tomé and Príncipe collected as early as the 1930’s.  Among the material, they discovered a new. presumably endemic species.

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Meet Otostigmus coltellus (left), from Zootaxa 3734 (2013). For scientific purposes, only the parts of the animal that are important for identification are published; the photo on the right  (RCD phot – GG II) may or may not be an Otostigmus but it would look something like this.  I am told they are difficult to identify unless you look at underparts, but as all islanders know, these centopéias can deliver a painful, sometimes dangerous bite.  So far, the new O. coltellus is known only from Ilheu Rolas and Zampalma on São Tomé; it and O. productus are considered unique to the islands, while the two large reddish species of Scolopendra (see below) found on both islands are probably introduced. This means that the centipedes of São Tomé and Príncipe are 50% unique (endemic).

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Scolopendra subspinipes feeding on slug (D. Lin phot.  GG I

More and more islanders on São Tomé and Príncipe are posting images of strange island creatures on the internet. For instance, in my last blog I was able to include photos taken by the staff of Praia Inhame of the largest reptile in the world, the leatherback sea turtle.

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Mobula, a large manta ray on Praia San Paolo, near airport, Sao Tome.  unknown phot.

Another example is this huge manta ray which was caught off Praia San Paolo near the airport last year.  This could be one of six different manta species of the genus Mobula that occur in this part of the Atlantic.  In these cases, we do not know who took the pictures, but we can still respond with identifications.

Still others are sending us pictures of animals and plants directly for identification; we call these people “citizen scientists,” and we hope our continuing expeditions and education programs are having something to do with this.

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Estrela Matilde lives on Príncipe Island and works as Supervisor for HBD Agricultural Operations.  Recently a fisherman brought her the strange creature figured below:

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 Scyllarides herklotsii  E. Matilde phot

I took the photo to some of my colleagues at the Academy who identified it as a red slipper lobster, and we were able to send Estrela the information below.

red slip lbstr page

1991 FAO species catalog. Vol. 13

We have received some very interesting photos From São Tomé Island, over the past few years but most recently from Ponta Figo.

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina

Tiziano Pisoni and Mariangela Reina are the proprietors of Mucumbli Ponta Figo, a restaurant/guest resort in the northwest of the big  island. Tiziano is evidently very fond of African civets (Civetticus civetta) and has had several as pets. One that now lives in the garden is 14 years old, but he has a new pup as well.

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Tiziano’s 14 year old Civet

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Tiziano’s latest pet.

African civets are widespread on the African mainland (I have seen many). They are the largest members of the mongoose family, Viverridae, but are not native to the islands.  It is said they were introduced to control rodents about 100 years ago. They are largely nocturnal and eat virtually anything.

But the most intriguing photos the Mucumbli people sent me were of some mushrooms they found a month or so ago.

Readers will recall that before we began our expeditions, fewer than 15 species were known from São Tomé, and Príncipe had never been sampled.  We now have 225 species;, over 30% are apparently new to science.  I immediately sent the Mucumbli shots to Dr. Dennis Desjardin, an outstanding  mycologist and veteran of two Gulf of Guinea expeditions.

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Ponta Figo boletes- Mucumbli phot

Mucumbli botetes

Ponta Figo boletes-Mucumbli phot

Dennis immediately identified the mushrooms as boletes, a rather general term largely referring to their shape.  He could not identify them without actually having them in hand but did say that we have never collected this species, and they may well be the first ectomycorrhizal fungus for São Tomé!  This term refers to the symbiotic association of the mycelium of a fungus with the roots of certain plants, such as conifers, beeches, or orchids; this relationship is found among a number of mushroom groups, and frequently the association is with particular species of plants or trees. We had already discovered two genera of ectomycorrhizal fungi on Principe (see below) but so far none confirmed from the big island.

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Ramaria sp. from Principe Desjardin phot – GG III

Amanita Principe

Principe Amanita sp. Desjardin phot GG III

Clearly, we need to get some samples of the Ponta Figo mushrooms.

Back on Principe, Marnie Saidi of Santo Antonio is our champion citizen scientist so far.

Marnie Saidi

Marnie and her partner Hassan own and operate a construction business in Santo Antonio, Principe.  She has participated in a number of our biodiversity education projects in schools on the smaller island and has become quite the naturalist.
The garden behind her house is nothing special (see below) but the creatures that visit her every year are quite surprising.

Marnies backyard

Saidi phot, 2013

Last year, Marnie caught a number of large beetles on her property and actually put them in the freezer for me to await our return last April. They are still being identified, but the photo below is a long-horned beetle, of the Family Cerambycidae. Note Marnie’s green fingernails, offered as scale.

cerambycid

Principe long-horned beetle. Saidi phot, 2012

Below is an image from the internet to show what a long-horned beetle looks like when it is not in a jar-this is a much smaller individual.

Alexandr Novas

Alexandr Novas phot. from internet

Marnie’s catches of long-horned beetles are particularly notable as so far as we know, 40% of the species of this group are found nowhere else but São Tomé and Príncipe.  Below is another of Marnie’s beetles, which we now have here at the Academy.  It has been tentatively identified by our entomologists as a dynastine scarab.

dynastine scarab

Principe dynastine scarab- Saidi phot 2012

Since we returned, Marnie has sent us a number of intriguing images of her strange visitors. The next email was the photo below, actually I think it is two different images of the same spider.

MARNIES SPIDERS

Giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria. Saidi phot. 2013

Dr. Charles Griswold, one of my colleagues here at the Academy identified this as a giant crab spider, Heteropoda venatoria; these are widespread on the mainland and not unsuspected to be present on Príncipe.  They are frequently welcomed into homes, as they eat large numbers of insect pests. Marnie then sent a photo of a beautiful green moth.

Geometrid Thalassa quadraria

Green moth, Thalassa quadraria (Geometridae) Saidi phot 2013

This was kindly identified by my friend Dr. Luis F. Mendes of the Institute for Tropical Science Research in Lisbon.  Although, he is a butterfly specialist who has just published a paper on the butterflies of the islands, he is sure that this green moth is a new record for Principe!

During the past few weeks, Marnie has been visited by two of the three unique frog species on the small island.

both leptos

Male Leptopelis palmatus, the Principe Giant Tree Frog.  Saidi phot. 2013

This is a male of the Principe giant treefrog, Leptopelis palmatus.  Photos of this species have appeared in this blog many times. The males can be many different colors, but the females are usually dull green; the eyes of both species are always bright red. According to the tenets of biogeography, there should be no frogs at all on the islands, as there has never been a connection with the mainland!  What is spectacular about this particular species is that the females are the largest of all African tree frogs (up to 110 mm)! It is the only island amphibian species whose tadpoles (aquatic larvae) we have never found and described.

Marnie hyperolius

Oceanic tree frog,  Hyperolius molleri. Saidi phot. 2013

Marnie was most recently visited by an Oceanic tree frog, Hyperolius molleri. Until very recently, we thought this species was the only one that occurs on both São Tomé and Príncipe, but very recent evidence hints that the two populations may be different. We are working on it.

As you can see, observations by islanders, Citizen Scientists, are of great value to us and the world of science.  We are busy identifying  specimens and planning our next expeditions; perhaps a short educational one in the Spring, and another full-fledged one in early 2015.

Here’s the parting shot:

Tose

Regional President Hon. Jose Cassandra hoists aloft the certificate designating Principe Island a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve!

PARTNERS

We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tomehttp://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”. We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII was funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII. Substantial support has already come in for our next expeditions from donors in memory of the late Michael Alan Schnoll, beloved husband of our island biodiversity education Project Manager, Velma.

Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”

The Race: Endemicity and the Gulf of Guinea VII Expedition (I. The Scientists)

Readers may recall that last March, prior to GG VI, I gave several lectures in Portugal on Gulf of Guinea island biodiversity. The last was an international colloquium on São Tomé and Príncipe held at the University in Lisbon. There I met a number of the participants, among whom were old friends and a delightful entomologist named Dr. Luis Mendes; Luis and I remained in contact, and he has just published and sent me the most up-to date survey of the butterfly fauna of the islands butterfly fauna.

BUTTERFLIES

Photo by Luis Mendes

As we have learned to expect, the endemicity (uniqueness) level is high. Luis and his colleague, Bivar de Sousa, report 111 species present on both islands, 29 of which are found nowhere else in the world. Thus, fully a quarter of the butterflies (26%) are endemics. This is further testimony to the great age of these islands, as we know that genetic change (evolution) occurs with isolation and time. Last month, another paper appeared by Loureiro and Pontes confirming the endemic status of a species of dragonfly, Trithemis nigra found only on Príncipe but not seen for many years.

best Trithemis_nigra_PI_NSL_0213

Photo of Trithemis nigra byNuno Loureiro 

The image below is a summation of our current knowledge of  some of the insect endemicity on the two islands; much of the data upon which this summation is based are very old, and so much more work needs to be done.

INSECTS

photo: www images:  CAS construct.

We are getting ready for GG VII (April-May), and below is our new logo for the expedition; note that the famous Cobra bobo, a legless amphibian found only on São Tomé has been joined by an endemic Príncipe snake, also called Cobra bobo but entirely unrelated. (The cartoons of both animals were made by my graduate student, Dashiell Harwood, and the layout was by a member of our Biodiversity Education Team, Michael Murakami.

logo

GG VII (2013) logo.

Jimmy

James Shevock of CAS; photo A. Stanbridge- GG VI

Jim Shevock, a world-class bryologist, will be joining us for the third time. As you can see from the data above, he has already greatly increased our knowledge of mosses and their relatives on the islands, and there are still many species to be found. For example, during GG VI last year, Jim returned to the same locality along the Rio Papagaio in Príncipe that he had collected during GG V; in GG VI and found many plants he did not find the first time, including 10 of them new to the country! Jim has worked a lot in Asia and his nickname on Taiwan is “Little Bear.”

Rayna

Rayna Bell at Caxuiera, Sao Tome. A.  Stanbridge phot – GG VI

Rayna Bell is a graduate student from Cornell University. During GG VI she studied possible hybridization between the two endemic São Tomé treefrog species Hyperolius thomensis and H. molleri and currently has a paper in press on her work with us last year. This year we will try to find the elusive tadpole (larva) of the Príncipe giant treefrog which remains undescribed. Leptopelis palmatus is the largest treefrog in Africa.  Speaking of herpetology, to date our CAS island specimens and tissues have been used in 33 scientific publications, internationally!

Tom

Dr. Tom Daniel, Lagoa Amelia, Sao Tome.  RCD phot, GG III

Dr. Tom Daniel is a veteran of GG III and GG IV. Our senior botanist, he is a specialist on the flower family Acanthaceae (shrimp plants); in the picture above, he is standing in Lagoa Amelia next to Heteradelphia, a genus we think is endemic to São Tomé. He has done a lot of work on ferns and other Gulf of Guinea plant groups as well.

Tamas final

Dr. Tamas Szuts with some of his critters – Tszuts photos

Dr. Tamas Szuts is an expert on jumping spiders of the family Salticidae. He was a post-doctoral fellow here at the Academy under Dr. Charles Griswold (GG I) and will be joining the team for the first time. He is now on the faculty of the University of West Hungary. Salticids are about the only spider  group I think are kind of cute, face to face!

Miko

Miko Nadel, Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge photo. GG VI

Miko Nadel is a graduate student at San Francisco State University under Prof. Dennis Desjardin (GG II, GG III). After making a comprehensive lichen collection during GG VI, he has decided to focus his research on the lichen genus Usnea; these are the hanging, pendulous lichens known in the US as “old man’s beard.”

droo better

Andrew Stanbridge at Laguna Azul, Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge photo. GG VI

We will once again be documented by the world’s largest photographer, Andrew Stanbridge, veteran of GG V and GG VI. Andrew was one of those who ascended the Pico do São Tomé last year (see last April blog). His obvious photographic skills are only part of what he brings to our expeditions.

bob-1

Dr. Bob Drewes with Regional President of Principe, Hon. Jose Cassandra.  A. Stanbridge phot.  GG VII

I will be leading the trip as usual and will attempt to answer the ongoing question: do I have to wear a tie to see President Jose, or do I not have to wear a tie? .. Never quite seem to get it right.

The second part of the blog will be focused on the education team and our plans for Gulf of Guinea VII

Here’s the Parting Shot:

incredible Principe

Incredible Principe Island. A. Stanbridge phot. GG VI

 

PARTNERS

We are most grateful to Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, Victor Bomfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for their continuing authorization to collect and export specimens for study, and to Ned Seligman, Roberta dos Santos and Quintino Quade of STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, our “home away from home”.

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences for largely funding our initial two expeditions (GG I, II). The Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden provided logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), and special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who made the GG III-V expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, and Sheila Farr Nielsen; GG VI supporters include Bom Bom Island and the Omali Lodge for logistics and lodging, The Herbst Foundation, The “Blackhawk Gang,” the Docent Council of the California Academy of Sciences in honor of Kathleen Lilienthal, Bernard S. Schulte, Corinne W. Abel, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, John S. Livermore and Elton Welke. GG VII has been funded by a very generous grant from The William K. Bowes Jr. Foundation, and substantial donations from Mrs. W.H.V.“D.A.” Brooke, Thomas B. Livermore, Rod C. M. Hall, Timothy M. Muller, Prof. and Mrs. Evan C. Evans, Mr. and Mrs. John L. Sullivan Jr., Clarence G. Donahue, Mr. and Mrs. John Sears, and a heartening number of “Coolies”, “Blackhawk Gang” returnees and members of the Academy Docent Council. Once again we are deeply grateful for the continued support of the Omali Lodge (São Tomé) and Bom Bom Island (Príncipe) for both logistics and lodging and especially for sponsoring part our education efforts for GG VII.
Our expeditions can be supported by tax-deductable donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

 

 

 

 

 

The Race: Our Omali Base, Year’s Odds and Ends

Year’s end and things are busy, even in Academia.   Here at the Academy, we are already in planning mode for GG VI but more on that in coming months.  We are awaiting the publication of more of our discoveries, and I will report them here as they appear.  In the meantime this is a good opportunity to thank all of you who have helped make next year’s expedition a probability: the Herbst Foundation, the “Blackhawk Gang”, and the California Academy of Sciences Docent Council.

As readers know, our mission is not only to discover and scientifically describe what is on these wonderful old islands but to let others know about it, especially the citizens.   But, this also includes the business visitor and tourists primarily interested in fishing or ocean activities.  The neat unique critters we are studying are not just isolated up in the higher reaches of the forest; many can be found right downtown.  You just have to look.

toes by velma

The Omali Pool [photo and toes- V. Schnoll, GG V]

On the beach of Praia Lagarto, between the airport and downtown São Tomé, lies the Omali Lodge.  Originally built by a Mr. Hellinger, I remember it in its original incarnation as the Marlin Beach Hotel, one of the best bars in the islands– a real gathering place.  It is small and quite upscale but it retains its original flavor.  Folks who know the islands or have been well informed stay at the Omali; it attracts rather fascinating people.

The Omali is pretty fancy digs for a bunch of bush biologists like us but luckily, the Omali’s owners have supported our work by allowing us to stay there during our last three expeditions.  As comfortable and friendly as the Omali is, the central thing for our work is a dependable power source (although a post-fieldwork dip in the pool is not too shabby!)

oMALI WECK

The Omali [Weckerphoto, GG III]

So as a new visitor, if you walk through the foyer and bar out to the back to the pool, you will first be struck by the enormous coconut palms.  Ignore them for now; to the left around the back of the kitchen, and behind the rockwork in the pool are several other palm-like trees that aren’t!

screw pine

screw pines, Pandanus thomensis. fruit (r), prop roots (l)  [T. Daniel, GG III, IV]

These are the São Tomé screw pines, Pandanus thomensis.  You can tell them from the palms by the fact that the base of each tree is supported by a number of prop roots (see right, above).  Obviously, these are neither pines nor coconuts; the important thing to know is that these trees are found only on São Tomé, nowhere else in the world.

macu2

Trachylepis maculilabris. [D. Lin, GG II]

As you walk along the pool, the first quick movement in the grass is likely to be a speckle-lipped skink, particularly common during the heat of the day.  These lizards are not unique to the islands but they are very good dispersers across oceanic barriers, and they are found on many of the Atlantic and Indian Ocean islands.  Some of our colleagues have looked at the genetics of the São Tomé and Prìncipe skinks and suggest that while they are not endemics, they have been on the islands since long before man arrived.

Lygo thomensis  JU III

Lygodactylus thomensis [J. Uyeda, GG II]

On the walls surrounding the pool and rooms lives the São Tomé day gecko, Lygodactylus thomensis, which shuttles in and out of the shade in search of insects.  Most geckos are nocturnal creatures, but this group is secondarily diurnal.  L. thomensis is a true endemic whose ancestors probably reached São Tomé millions of years ago; the same is true of its closest relatives, the Prìncipe day gecko, L. delicatus, and the Annobon day gecko, L. wermuthi.

Scutellaridae true bug weck

Homopteran true bug [Weckerphoto, GG III]

Most of the Omali plants are ornamentals from other parts of the world of course, but this does not mean they do not harbor fascinating species.  Our photographer on GG III, Wes Eckerman took the photograph above of a homopteran bug on a bush near the Omali pool.   Our entomologists have not been able to identify it beyond the Family Scutellaridae! It is highly likely that an enormous number of the islands’ insects remain to be discovered and described scientifically.

waxbill

Common waxbill,  Estrilda astrild [Weckerphoto, GG III]

cordon bleu

Blue-cheeked cordon-bleu, Uraeginthus cyanocephala [Weckerphoto GG III]

Bird life around the pool is plentiful and entertaining. The most commonly seen birds in the Omali bushes are various finches and waxbills that are of African origin and possibly brought over from the mainland as pets by the Portuguese colonials (above).  But the real specialty is the São Tomé Prinia.  Prinias are Old World insectivorous warblers; there are about 30 species divided between Africa and Asia.  Prinia molleri is the only member of this group in the islands and it is found only on São Tomé, from downtown all the way to the top of Pico at 2,000 meters. As common and seemingly fearless as this endemic little bird is, it is extremely difficult to photograph. It just won’t hold still.

pRINIA

Prinia molleri on Omali window sill [Weckerphoto, GG III]

pRINIA2

Prinia molleri [Weckerphoto, GG III]

Finally, lying around the Omali pool it is impossible not to notice the noisy action up at the top of the palm trees.  Part of the year the palm fronds seem to be inhabited mostly by vitelline masked weavers. Even when they are not around their distinctive nests from the year before are obvious. Males display noisely to attract females to the new nests, which are made annually.

Weaver_Vitelline_Masked_Soitorgoss_Daudi_2007_03_19_2b

Vitelline masked weaver,  Ploceus velatus [Globaltwitchers phot]

These weavers are native but not unique to the islands although some ornithologists recognize them as a distinct race (or subspecies, Ploceus velatus peixotoi) indicating that they may have been isolated from the mainland long enough to be recognizably different from the mainland species.  These weavers are not found on Prìncipe.  All who know them would agree that weavers are a noisy group in general.

When we are working on the islands, usually March-May, the weavers are rather scarce and instead, their place in the palm trees seems to be taken up with the large island fruit bat, Eidolon helvum. These large bats are common on the African mainland where they are migratory; the São Tomé populations are thought to be the same species but do not migrate.  They are eaten by many local people.

Bat Eidolon helvum

Eidolon helvum at the Omali [RCD, GG V]

An hour or so at the Omali pool at the right time of year is enough to learn that Eidolon is a very noisy animal as well.  They seem to argue and fuss all day when they should be sleeping; the sight of the entire group flying off to feed at dusk is unforgettable.

velma

Fruit bats leaving the Omali at dusk [V. Schnoll phot. GG V]

Bats are a group much in need of genetic study.  There are a number of endemic species recognized by anatomical characters, but in most cases their true species status has not been tested molecularly as we have done with the Sao Tome shrew (see earlier blogs).  The expert on the bats of these islands is my colleague Dr. Javier Juste of the Doñana Institute in Seville, Spain.  In an earlier blog I reported that Dr. Juste was involved in the description of a new pipistrelle bat from Prìncipe – this is not yet published and is based in part on genetics. During the past few weeks, I have sent Javier some images of bats we have taken during past expeditions, and he has kindly tried to identify them for us.

bats Nova Cuba

Hipposideros bats at Nova Cuba, Principe [Weckerphoto, GG III]

This is a group of bats we found at the old plantation of Nova Cuba, on Prìncipe. Currently recognized as Hipposideros ruber guineensis, they are thought to be a race of the red bat common on São Tomé but it would not surprise me if further analysis might prove them to be a distinct species.

Hipposideros ruber guineaeensis

Nova Cuba. Hipposideros ruber guineensis [Weckerphoto, GG III]

The photo below was taken by Wes during the day, on the ridge above Lagoa Amelia at about 1400 meters on São Tomé. Javier thinks it might be the endemic Hipposideros thomensis.

H. thomensis Lagoa Amelia

Hipposideros thomensis above Lagoa Amelia. [Weckerphoto, GG III]

A final note on spiders; two previous blogs this year have dealt with spiders we have found in gardens, one of which turned out to be an endemic species.  A few days ago, my colleague Angus Gascoigne of the Instituto Superior Politecnico sent me several photos of the spider below:

argiope1

Argiope orb weaver [Manuel Morais phot. 12/2011]

I took the photos in to our spider experts and they got quite excited.  It is an orb weaver of a widespread genus but “this one is really different!”  I suppose I should not be surprised, and Angus is collecting more as I write.

For all of you who observe them, Happy Holidays!

Here’s the Parting Shot:

parting

The Raison d’Etre!

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bonfim, and Salvador Sousa Pontes of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the last three expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll, Sheila Farr Nielsen, Corinne W. Abel and Mr. and Mrs. John Sears.   Our expeditions can be supported by tax-free donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: An Embarrassing Surprise in Henrique’s Garden

Last May while still in the islands I wrote a blog entitled “Henrique’s Spider.”  Henrique Pinto da Costa is my good friend and former Minister of Agriculture in the Republic of São Tomé e Príncipe. We are quite close and call each other “Bob 42” and “Henrique 42”, referring to the year of our respective births (There is a mutual friend, “Bruce 42” as well – Bruce Potter, who runs the Island Research Foundation in Washington D.C..

Since we left the islands, Henrique’s brother, Manuel, has been elected the new President of the Republic;  in fact Manuel Pinto da Costa was also the country’s first president after independence from Portugal in 1975.

in-the-garden

“Bob 42” and “Henrique 42” in Henrique’s Garden, Sao Tome.  A. Stanbridge GGV

As I wrote some months ago, we found some remarkable spiders of the genus Gasteracantha in Henrique’s garden which I brought back to the Academy for identification as, at the time, I did not recall ever seeing this strange spider on earlier expeditions.

qu-hunting

Quintino Quade spider hunting in the garden.  A. Stanbridge. GG V

I gave the spiders to our experts in Entomology who tentatively identified them as Gasteracantha sanguinolenta, a very widespread species  on the mainland.

henriques-gasteer

Henrique’s Gasteracantha – first sighting. A. Stanbridge GG V

A few weeks ago, another old island friend, Angus Gascoigne of ISP, a lecturer at the islands’ polytechnic institute asked me if I knew about an endemic island spider called Gasteracantha thomasinsulae; he also pointed out that we, the California Academy of Sciences, actually house the type material, the specimens from which this endemic species was named.  This came as a surprise to the Entomology staff, but then that department houses over 15 million specimens.   Darrell Ubick of Entomology went into our enormous collections, located the type material, compared it with the specimens we brought back and sure enough, Henrique’s spiders are the endemic Gasteracantha thomasinsulae, so far known only from the island of São Tomé!

Here is Gasteracantha thomasinsulae, an endemic spider  from Henrique 42’s garden, and NOT a widespread mainland species!!  A Stanbridge GG V
g-thomasinsula

g-t

gasteracantha-thomasinsula

These spiders were first discovered by a professional collector named Borys Malkin, who collected a series of them in 1949 for Dr. Ed Ross, one of our entomologists. They were found in a number of localities including Nova Ceilão, Zampalma and Macambrara.  Dr. Ross sent the specimens to Dr. Allan Archer, a specialist at the University of Alabama, who ultimately described them as a new species in 1951.

type-material

The original type series collected in 1949, in the collections of the California Academy of Sciences  RCD phot

This is what large natural history museums and their faculties are for.  I wonder though if Angus had not written me how long it might have taken to realize what we had!
Ex Africa Semper Aliquid Novi!

The parting shot:

the-love-of-teachers

The shared love and respect of teachers.  Sao Tome. GG V

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, (GG I, II), the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging (GG III-V), STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the support of Bastien Loloum of Zuntabawe  and Faustino Oliviera, Curator of the Herbarium at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals who have made the last three expeditions possible: George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III, Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor, Velma and Michael Schnoll and Sheila Farr Nielsen. Our expeditions can be supported by tax-free donations to “California Academy of Sciences Gulf of Guinea Fund”.

The Race: GG IV– The Second Week

OK, first an update on our special “questing beasts”: last weekend after Roberta Ayres, our education officer, finally arrived, we had a traditional Sao Tome dinner at Nova Moca, a former plantation high on the eastern slopes of the mountain. This is where Ricardo Lima lives, our graduate student colleague who first brought my attention to the supposedly endemic Sao Tome shrew and our mystery “charroco,” the fish that does not appear on our fish checklist.

Roberta Ayers at Nova Moca (Ricardo Lima in back). RCD phot. GG IV

Ricardo gave me the preserved shrew he had already caught, a piece of its tail preserved separately, and the tail of a second shrew, removed by machete by one of Ricardo’s assistants (I should add that shrews are mean critters to handle, and some species have a toxic bite)… the rest of the shrew escaped. Again, we are anxious to test the DNA of this species to see if it is in fact a real endemic or was brought to the islands recently (like during the last 500 years of Portuguese comings and goings). We are unsure of what preservative Ricardo used for the material (he doesn’t remember), so we will be uncertain as to the value of what we already have until we get back to the lab. But I have left a couple of liters of 85% with him, so we know we will get DNA from the next shrew that is encountered


Millipede from Bom Sucesso. RCD phot. GG IV

Another questing beast is the millipede. To our knowledge, this group (the myriapods) has not been sampled on the islands, and our colleague at North Carolina State Museum, Dr. Rowland Shelley (a specialist on the group) expressed doubt that there was much present. Sure enough, almost the first log we turned over had a bunch of them underneath, and we also have a sample from 1100 m higher (including the above). Obviously we will search many more localities, both here and on Principe. I must also add that it is wonderful to have an expert colleague willing to examine stuff like this and give us some answers… the Academy has a lot of experts, but we don’t do everything.

The botany guys, Tom and Jim are doing wondrous things:

Pico Cavalio from the north. T. Daniel phot.GG IV

The picture above is of Pico Cavalio, one that must be climbed en route to the ultimate Pico de Sao Tome at 2,000 meters. This one is a brute and our guys have collected the top of it. So far, this is the highest locality that any of our expedition members has ever reached at 1566m. Also, the guys have found a bunch of new trails through really good forest that earlier teams missed, especially around Lagoa Amelia (in earlier blogs)– some of the results have been pretty spectacular.

Begonia macambrarensis, A Sao Tome endemic. T. Daniel phot. GG IV

This yellow begonia is known only from Sao Tome, and Tom and Jim found it on the way up to Pico Cavalio. This is our first collection of this endemic and quite exciting.


Brachystephanus occidentalis 2 more to go! T. Daniel phot.GG IV

Although the begonia is exquisite, Tom got even more excited about the critter above. Tom just published a monograph of the Acanthaceae of Sao Tome and Principe. By the end of GG III, he had found all but three of the endemic species present on the islands – now the list is down to two! And we have tissue samples for comparison with members oft his family on the mainland and other parts of the world.

Jim Shevock is in “seventh heaven;” he is up to 400 collections. Many of you don’t know Jim yet (he is new to the CAS faculty)—Jim is not only tireless, but totally ebullient! Nothing bothers him (and Tom and I have been trying!)


Jim Shevock collecting new trail. T. Daniel phot.GG IV

One of the real pleasures of leading these expeditions is learning how differently we do the same thing—collecting and preparing specimens. Collecting for Jim just looks like scraping away at rocks, or tree trunks and other substrates (of course, you have to know where to look, and that can take many years). And basically that is what he is doing.. However, the way he prepares his collections is really different.

Jim with prepared specimens of Leucobryum RCD phot. GG IV

Jim does not press plants like Tom does—the stuff Jim collects is already pretty flat! Instead, he has special archival paper which has, already printed on each sheet, a table that includes blanks for the number of the specimen as well as for the whole range of possible environmental conditions under which the specimen was collected. He fills out the blanks (duplicates everything on the computer, of course), then folds the specimen into the paper in such a way that each packet stands up while the specimen is drying within. Our room (all 3 of us together) frequently looks like a major regatta on San Francisco Bay.


Regatta in room #10. RCD phot. GG IV

It is probably obvious to anyone reading this that we could not do any of this work without approval from the authorities, especially the Ministry of the Environment. The Director is Arlindo Carvalho, a delightful man. One of the other gentlemen with whom we work is Vitor Bonfim, who is head of Conservation on the islands. I am including a picture of Vitor because his nephew is a FaceBook friend of mine.. a student in Los Angeles!


While the guys are having all this fun, Roberta Ayers and I have been pursuing the education proposal/dream/idea. We have had an amazing series of meetings with all sorts of people here on the islands; it is my intention that whatever we come up with will have the enthusiasm of the citizens at all levels.


Roberta Ayres and Roberta dos Santos. Omali Lodge. RCD phot GG

A very dear old friend of mine is Roberta dos Santos. Roberta works with Ned Seligman in his NGO, STeP UP. In fact, Ned met Roberta when he was running the Peace Corps here, years ago. But more than that, she has been in education her entire life and her degree (in education) is from the US. (Imagine a young girl born and raised on Sao Tome—on the Equator—landing in Buffalo, New York in mid January!) We have contracted with Roberta to assist our CAS Roberta set up meetings, etc. And Roberta knows absolutely everybody. The “Dos Robertas” are a wonderful team. Our CAS Roberta has the perfect personality as well as the educational know-how for what we are trying to accomplish, and I am much impressed. She “gets it,” and is fun.

After some panicky moments yesterday, our flights to Principe, the much older, smaller island, have been confirmed. I must confess I will be glad to get back out into the field. While I do have this dream for raising awareness of the unique biodiversity here, I really am a bush guy at heart, and meetings pale in comparison to stomping around in forests and swamps. CAS Roberta has all she needs to carry on during the week we are gone and is totally comfortable. Tom, Jim and I take off on Sunday and will return a week later, after Roberta has flown home. With fingers crossed, we are off to see if “cobra bobo” exists on Principe.

The Parting Shot:


Dinner at Nova Moc. Ricardo Lima and RCD. T. Daniel phot. GG IV

PARTNERS

We gratefully acknowledge the support of the G. Lindsay Field Research Fund, Hagey Research Venture Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement (SCD) and Africa’s Eden for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/, Arlindo de Ceita Carvalho, Director General, and Victor Bomfim, Salvador Sousa Pontes and Danilo Barbero of the Ministry of Environment, Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe for permission to export specimens for study, the continued support of Bastien Loloumb of Monte Pico and Faustino Oliviera, Director of the botanical garden at Bom Sucesso. Special thanks for the generosity of private individuals, George G. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom, Timothy M. Muller, Mrs. W. H. V. Brooke, Mr. and Mrs. Michael Murakami, Hon. Richard C. Livermore, Prof. & Mrs. Evan C. Evans III and Mr. and Mrs. Robert M. Taylor for helping make these expeditions possible. Our work can be supported by donations to CAS, Gulf of Guinea Fund

THE RACE: How Little We Know About Lions!! (antlions, that is)

A recurrent theme in our work in the Republic of São Tomé and Príncipe is the continuous reminder of how little we and the 160,000 citizens of these fragile little islands know about the unique biology found here.  I have already told you that when we first arrived, there were but four species of mushrooms listed from São Tomé and none from Príncipe; we now have at least 180, and the first ever recorded from Príncipe (75), the older of the two islands. Many of these are species new to science and are being described for the first time; this is a huge jump in the island biodiversity list and there is much more to come. 

During our first expedition in 2001 (GG I), we were interviewed twice by the local television station in São Tomé.  In the second interview two weeks after our arrival, I had the whole gang prepared to show some of the specimens we had collected.  When we showed him the scorpions, the reporter, Gui Gui, went nuts!  Neither he nor any other citizen we have spoken to since, has ever seen nor heard of a scorpion.  And yet they are quite common at night (along with numerous geckos and crabs) on the basalt cliffs of the northwestern shore of the island near Laguna Azul.

Isometrus, widespread tropical. Sao Tome (D. Lin phot) GG I

Basalt Cliffs near Laguna Azul, Sao Tome.  GG I  (J.Ledyard phot)

Jens Vindum confronts crab on basalt cliffs. Sao Tome.  GG I (RCD phot)

   I am told that if the new hotel project at Laguna Azul becomes a reality, the coastal area will become inaccessible to local traffic, and the road will be re-routed higher, some 3 km through the dry, north end of the island from Laguna Azul to Neves.   What we call “Shipwreck Cove” (Praia Mutamba), one of our favorite study sites and the location of some remnant dry forest will become the marina for the new hotel.  

Praia Mutamba, Sao Tome. note basalt cliffs in background. GG III (weckerphoto)

Dr. Tomio Iwamoto negotiates old dry forest. Praia Mutambo, Sao Tome GG I (RCD phot)

 Yet another example of how little we know about these islands can be found in the insect order Neuroptera.  Neuropterans are world-wide and include the lacewings, mantis flies and antlions.  As kids, we western North Americans know antlion larvae as “doodlebugs”, the little critters that form funnels in the ground. One of the world’s leading experts on the Neuroptera is the Academy’s Dr. Norm Penny,who was with us on both GG I in 2001 and GG II in 2006. 

 

Dr. Norm Penny with a malaise trap, Principe. GG II (D. Lin phot)

 Prior to GG I, there were only four species of neuropterans known from São Tomé and Príncipe from as many specimens. All were lacewings; antlions had never been recorded from either island.  At the end of GG I, Norm had about 370 specimens, representing 14 species in three families! 

Apochrysa  leptalea  Sao Tome. GG I (D. Lin phot)

Borniochrysa squamosa Sao Tome.  GG I (D. Lin phot)

Ceratochrysa sp.  Sao Tome. GG I (D. Lin phot)

Glenochrysa sp. Sao Tome. GG I (D. Lin phot)

The distribution of these critters throughout the Gulf of Guinea archipelago refelects an old island biogeographic principe: the number of species supportable on an oceanic island can be predicted by the island area and its distance from the mainland.  As you can see below, island area seems more important in this case. One might predict that because Príncipe is closer to the mainland, it should support more species than São Tomé. But, put simply, the larger, more variable an island’s topography, the greater number of niches (read “jobs”) are available to be filled by colonizers.

 

As I mentioned above, antlions (Myrmeleon) are close relatives of lacewings and had not been recorded on either island prior to GG I.  Antlion larvae dig funnel-shaped pits and hide at the bottom, partially buried in sand and waiting for an unsuspecting ant or other arthropod to slide into the pit, whereupon the larva or “doodlebug” kills and eats it. We first noticed these pits across the road from where we were staying in São Tomé in 2001. 

Antlion (doodlebug) pits. Sao Tome GG I (D. Lin phot)

antlion larva (doodlebug) exposed (J. Robinson phot)

A doodlebug lies in wait at the bottom of his pit. (WWW phot) 

Now, the curious thing is that one does not have to capture the winged adults in order to study antlions.  It turns out that the larvae are very hardy, and you only need to winkle them out of the pits, put them in a small vial of sand, and they become quiescent, surviving for long periods of time.  Norm can then raise them to adulthood later in his doodlebug lab.  

 

Dr. Penny in his antlion lab (note cups) (RCD phot.)

 

First adult Sao Tome antlion raised in lab. New record for Sao Tome. (D. Lin phot)

Norm puts the newly arrived larvae in styrfoam cups, they revive, feed on tiny crickets he provides, and then pupate. He then covers the cup, because, obviously, the adult will be winged.  We have been quite excited because we brought back the first ever Príncipe antlion larvae and one pupated in Dr. Penny’s lab.  

 

First Principe antlion locality. Bombom Island. GG III (weckerphoto)

Note the doodlebug has pupated.  (RCD phot)

The hatching! Note hole in the old pupa ball.  (RCD photo)

First Principe antlion hatched in our lab and a new record for Principe (RCD phot)

Very exciting.  Norm says both are species of Myrmeleon but whether they are the same species or different species has yet to be determined… This baseline work we do takes time.  But again, our job is to discover, analyze (understand) and describe.  We cannot preserve what we do not know.  

 

Dr. Norm Penny on Praia Agulhas, Principe. GG I (RCD phot)

Here is our usual “parting shot”: 

The “race” on Sao Tome

PARTNERS We gratefully acknowledge the support of the Research Investment Fund of the California Academy of Sciences, the Société de Conservation et Développement  (SCD) for logistics, ground transportation and lodging, STePUP of Sao Tome http://www.stepup.st/ and especially the generosity of three private individuals, George F. Breed, Gerry F. Ohrstrom and Timothy M. Muller, for making GG III possible.